It was suspected after the economy initially adjusted to the changes wrought by the pandemic that the future for business travel may be gloomy. In the brave new world of technology-led interaction, the thinking went, why would business people waste resources by jumping on a flight to meet each other when efficient dealmaking was but a Zoom call away?
More than 18 months into the Covid era, Zoom’s once-stratospheric share price is more than 60 per cent off its pandemic high and the evidence emerging from the airline industry suggests business travel is rebounding strongly.
Emirates, whose Irish operation celebrates its 10th anniversary in January, gave an update on its performance on Tuesday. The comments by its country manager for Ireland, former Aer Lingus executive Enda Corneille, on the strength of business class sales caught the eye.
Each Emirates aircraft that flies between Dublin and the Emirates hub of Dubai includes 42 business class seats and eight first-class seats, which collectively are considered its premium offering. Those seats are currently being filled at a load factor of up to 70 per cent, he suggested, which compares favourably with the 50 per cent load factor Emirates is achieving overall on its daily flights on the Dublin-Dubai route.
Not everybody who flies in business class is a business traveller, of course. Airlines don’t generally ask the purpose of your trip and some of the passengers booking premium tickets may be well-off leisure travellers. Others may be motivated by pandemic health concerns, and are prepared to splash out on premium seats so as to reduce the possibility of contact with other passengers.
But Corneille estimated that at least 50 per cent of them are travelling for business purposes. “Demand for business class is way, way ahead of where we expected it to be, and even where it was pre-pandemic,” he said. The airline now spies a significant opportunity in the area.
He suggested that short-haul business travel between countries where people are already very familiar with each other’s cultures could be more susceptible to a rollback.
But if the business interaction involves a topic or deal that is in any way complex, or if there are cultural differences between the meeting parties that means face-to-face engagements are necessary to avoid miscommunication, then travellers are as prepared to get on a flight to do business as they ever were.
The Covid-induced slowdown that was expected to wreak havoc on the economics of business travel? “There is is no sign of it,” says Corneille.